The Treehorn Express
Treehorn’s story : Open attachment.
[Maintained by NZ educator Allan Alach]
“I am often asked if I approve of compulsory education. The answer is that ‘I do’ and I wish that we had it. All we have is compulsory attendance.” [Heil ostman]
APPA-NZPF INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE
20 SEPTEMBER 2012
President of the New Zealand Principals’ Federation and co-host of the recent APPA-NZPF Melbourne Conference, Paul Drummond presented this forthright speech at the opening of the conference. There was no report of the conference nor the papers presented by distinguished guests, in any section of the Australian media. This blog provided extracts from Paul’s speech. Here is the original.
“Around the globe, particularly in the west, governments are adopting an economic agenda for education. That means increasing privatisation and reducing state support of quality public education.
Wherever the economic agenda has been implemented we can see common features of economic reform. These include:
- The introduction of a ‘managerialist’ culture where good management means implementing goals set outside the school within constraints also set outside the school.
- Introducing national assessment in literacy and numeracy, and creating a focus on these to the detriment of the wider curriculum.
- An obsession with making assessment data public and creating a high stakes environment.
- Pushing league tables based on national data.
- Using the data to reward so called ‘high performing’ teachers.
- Expecting teachers to lift achievement for all students irrespective of their socio-economic status.
- The closure of ‘non-performing’ schools according to the data.
- Involving privately owned and operated American type charter schools to replace public schools.
- Increasing central control, more accountability, target setting and undermining of principals’ voices.
- Increase in the proportion of private schools undermining the quality public school system.
- And finally we get an increase in social inequalities.
The economic agenda is not supported by any theory of learning or teaching, nor any theory of assessment and evaluation. Academics are as bewildered as we are about how this agenda can possibly be good for education. International experts tell us that top of the list for 21st century learning should be skills to encourage innovation, creativity, critical thinking and entrepreneurship. These are expansive concepts. They won’t be achieved in a narrowly focussed high stakes environment.
Countries have tried these ‘standards’ systems before. We had one in New Zealand in the 1880s. Let’s take a stroll —back…to the future!
Paul then presented illustrations of the ‘Standards regulations’ of 1878-9 and the responses to them.
We could easily believe that our current Minister had raided the archives and just hauled out this 140-year-old plan and called it National Standards. The likeness to what we’ve got now is breath taking! And for what?
Right now, New Zealand enjoys a very high position amongst OECD countries for educational achievement in literacy and numeracy and science. Those countries still up there with us have not adopted an economic agenda for education. Finland, Singapore, the city of Shanghai and Korea have all resisted. So have we, until now.
It is with great sadness that we watch the foundations of what has been one of New Zealand’s great triumphs, its world class education system, unravel before our very eyes. We have had a system of education based on principles of fairness, justice and equity which has long recognised the right of every child no matter what their circumstances, to have access to a free, secular and compulsory education that is best suited to their needs. We developed a curriculum in partnership with our parent communities that is the envy of the rest of the world. Its breadth and richness allow multiple pathways to learning and this is has been a major factor in maintaining our position at the top of the OECD rankings. It allows community ownership of children’s learning, individualised instruction and a close partnership between parents , professionals and the children we teach. Successive NZ governments have not invested in our education system at the same rate as most other OECD countries, but our professional culture of collaboration, cooperation, team teaching and sharing of resources has ensured our children get the very best out of what we do have. We are not perfect and we want to do better especially for the 14% of kids who are not enjoying success like the rest. Too many of these faces are Maori and Pacific Island.
Our current government has used this group as a lever to introduce system wide reform. The current catch phrase is that we must have five out of five children succeeding and the way to achieve that apparently is to take a one hundred years leap backwards. To have a complete system wide change beginning with the introduction of national standards in literacy and numeracy,followed by a drive to have this information made public. That has already happened and shortly the first national standards data will be placed on a public website.
We expect within the next couple of years the rest of the agenda will kick in. It has already been announced that next year’s assessment data will have to be entered into a specially mandated electronic table which will make it easier to collate the data for comparative purposes, after which we can expect regular publication of league tables. By 2015 an online moderation too will be fully effective to give further credibility to the assessment data, and beyond that we can expect performance pay. As a preliminary step, this year the Ministry is posting school assessment data on a public website. It is of no concern to the Minister or Ministry staff that the data is unreliable, inconsistent and in dozens of different formats.
The American model charter schools have already been announced with politicians not wanting to waste an opportunity like the Christchurch earthquake to establish their first example. Indeed Christchurch has been redefined by politicians as ‘The sandpit of opportunity’ – in other words politicians will experiment as they please. This project is being led by a former far right wing ACT [ a political entity allied to the National-led government] party president. Part of the announcement is that it would be acceptable to have unregistered staff teaching in charter schools and there would be no need for charter schools to pay teachers at current rates. This is in stark contrast to the government’s position earlier in the year which was that the quality of teachers is the number one factor if we are to make a difference to the underachievers. In fact the government planned to invest additional funds to ensure our teachers were trained to postgraduate level and were the best quality people. But six weeks later, quality doesn’t matter, at least not for charter schools anyway! Further, the opening hours of charter schools would be flexible and may well extend into the evening. Maybe these extra hour would be used for homework, and for drilling kids to pass their national standards. Beyond the teaching of literacy and numeracy,there would be no requirement for charter schools to teach to the NZ curriculum. They would have infinite flexibility to ‘innovate’. Ironically, this announcement comes as the public education system is becoming less flexible in its autonomy and in it ability to make choices. Accountability would come in the form of literacy and numeracy targets which if not met could result in the closure of the school.
There is interest in the charter school concept particularly from religious cults such as the Destiny Church and Maharashi,Transcendental Meditation group, other Christian groups that subscribe to creationist theories and American ‘for profit’ charter school chains.
Our greatest concern is that just like happened a hundred years ago a culture of competition will displace what has been a highly successful culture of collaboration and cooperation and before we know it our high performing public school system will be relegated to history. The changes have the potential to alter the entire social fabric of New Zealand with increased ghettoization and greater disparities between rich and poor. In fact, a recent OECD report concluded that the more choice we have in the types of schools we offer, the greater the social disparities in the country.
We are in the early stages of this shift to privatisation and as a profession we have resisted and argued against these reforms. The academic community has stood by us throughout but there is seemingly nothing that will stop the onslaught of this economic juggernaut and ideologically driven agenda.
We are well aware that the Australian teaching profession has been taken down this same road and that as a profession under siege you have experienced the low morale and despair that we are all feeling now. Despite the profession constantly reminding itself that our public school system is not failing and that the agenda is entirely economic and political and not educational, it is difficult to live through.
As a profession, we have been used as political pawns before. In the end it has been our strong sense of ethical responsibility that has pulled us through. We have refused to do anything that is not in the best interests of children and their learning. The challenge we face right now is in having the strength to pull together and collectively do what we know is right.
- To keep on celebrating and teaching to our broad curriculum.
- To resist the temptation to give credibility to national assessment and their accompanying league tables.
- To refuse collectively to engage in performance pay systems that are linked to national assessment.
- To rise above the competition being created around us and maintain our professional culture of sharing and collaboration.
It will mean strengthening our collective moral purpose and leading from the front to have any prospect of maintaining our world class education system.
We cannot do this alone. We will need to win the public support because the first rule of politics is to show that government policy is unpopular with the public and likely to shift voters’ loyalties. That means identifying the battles that will resonate with parents and professionals. We’ve done it once before when the government proposed to increase class sizes. We went to our boards and informed our parent communities. They responded vigorously and the policy was dropped. We must resolve to harness our parent communities again.
We are leaders of those communities. It is our ethical and professional obligation to advocate for what is good for kids. Sometimes, as history and experience have taught us, we have to be courageous and loud.
I suggest it is that time now. Our collective voice at local, national and international levels will be even louder and more effective. My challenge to you, colleagues, is to continue to stand up and speak up.
You are all invited
Monday, October 15
AEU Building, 112 Trenerry Crescent Abbotsford Victoria
Launch of ‘Say NO to NAPLAN’ – Mark 2
5pm for 5.30pm – Tea, coffee. refreshments provided
The response to the original set was astounding…headlined in all major newspapers.
Papers will be made available, free of charge from the Literacy Educators [see LINKS below]
Please rsvp your indication of attendance at the function, at your earliest : firstname.lastname@example.org
“Children need to shake hands with their brain and develop their emotional literacy in classrooms that are joyful.” [Goldie Hawn]